Image Critique: High Dive Sign

High Dive Sign

Image Format

4:3 ratio, full frame from a micro 4/3 camera. Multiple images were shot moving the camera closer to the subject overhead, with minimal feedback from the camera LCD, given the high angle. This frame offered the most effective composition.


The main theme here is the neon bar sign, and its reflection in the transom window. Its central location, large size, high contrast, interesting details, and extended color range assure that it will be the center of attention.

The secondary theme is the exit sign above. It harmonizes, being another illuminated sign, in related colors, with similarly high contrast. It adds a note of humor, by being an element usually considered unattractive, and avoided in, or removed from photos, and here being a harmonious part of a larger whole.

The background adds a touch of elegance, and a reference to a better past, to this rather utilitarian scene, with its decorative tin ceiling and moulded trim.


Powerful images often have a very controlled palette. Here the color scheme is red, with just an accent of an orangey yellow. The fact that the image is bathed in a red light indicates that the main sign may actually be red, but burned to white here by its high brightness. This adds an interesting note to the image that most viewers will not pick up on conciously, but may still sense on some level.


This image is self illuminating, an effect that often leads to a strong and contained effect. The brilliance and saturation of the illuminated elements set the dominant tone of the image, while the gradients and reductions in brightness on the background elements are important for producing a photographic realism often missing in totally neon images.

The overall impact is one of Chiaroscuro, with the subject emerging out of darkness.

Eye Movement

The eye initially rests on the high contrast area in the center, attempting to decode the complex layering of the sign supports, the neon, and the reflection of it just beyond. Once this puzzle is solved, the eye tends to move down and to the right on the bright whites of the reflected sign, and then sweep back up on the brilliant yellow bar of the reflected sign border, wrapping around at the top to inspect the ceiling detail and exit sign, from where it may either return to the center, or finish its sweep around the perimeter of the illuminated area on the left and across the bottom to the right.


The story here starts with a puzzle and ends with a joke. The puzzle is the decoding of the familiar, but not quite right, central components, with the sign in reverse, and seen from behind where its elements are blocked to varying degrees. Additional hints to its identity are offered by its reflection. Once the puzzle is solved, the eye moves on, and encounters the exit sign, and the joke of its aesthetic relationship with the decorative sign hits the viewer as it is recognized.

The high contrast, high saturation, high impact nature of the image makes the story dramatic, while the content shows it to be common, and perhaps a bit sordid, with the self-caricaturing feel of a country music song, which one can imagine playing in the background. The image title reinforces the story, and the humorous nature of the image: High Dive usually referring to a diving event, and Dive Bar generally referring to a low type of bar; the height of the image, taken overhead, can also be read into the name, as well as the word “HIGH” being quite visible in the reflection. In this case the title has yet another meaning, as High Dive is also the name of the bar in which the photograph was taken.

Process Notes

Shot with an Olympus E-P2 Micro 4/3 camera. Shutter speed 1/60 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1250, Focal length 17mm, Lens Olympus M 17mm f/2.8.

Shot freehand, in low light, as an overhead shot.

Processed from the original RAW file in Adobe Lightroom 3, exported as a high bit AdobeRGB TIFF, to Photoshop CS5 for local editing. File info added in Photoshop, down sampled to sRGB web rez JPG in Photoshop. Dedicated to CG.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website:   Return to Blog’s Main Page


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